The Cleveland Cavaliers have been a terrible road team this season, and that didn't change Saturday afternoon in the wake of news of Andrew Bynum's suspension. The team didn't want to play defense in the first half, giving up 35 second quarter points. After falling behind by 20 early in the 3rd quarter, the team could have quit.
To their credit, they didn't. Strong second half performances from Kyrie Irving, and even Anthony Bennett brought the Cavs all the way back and reduced the Celtics' lead to two with just under 20 seconds left in the game. Instead of letting Kyrie Irving try an isolation play or run the pick and roll with Anderson Varejao, Irving was in motion off ball. He came free off of a screen at foul line, but Dion Waiters shrugged him off.
It might have been the right play. Waiters had gotten a switch and had Brandon Bass on him. The Celtic didn't have a rim protector on the floor. Waiters attack the rim but Bass, an athletic and quick defending big, stayed right with him. Waiters couldn't convert or draw the foul, and the game was functionally over. Anderson Varejao failed to immediately foul and the Cavaliers didn't get another shot off in the game.
Kyrie Irving said the right thing after the game about the play after the game.
"Dion tried to make a crucial play at a crucial time, and came up a little short. But this could have been avoided ... we just got to get off to better starts throughout the game so we don't put ourselves behind in a big hole like that."
Waiters said following the game that he felt Bass bumped him, and while there was some body contact, it didn't feel to me like an egregious oversight.
Irving finished with 32 points on 22 shots, with three assists and two turnovers. The assists were low but Irving spent much of the second half off of the ball. He was 4-6 from three point range, and his shooting numbers over the last nine games are in line with his reputation as an all star.
Anthony Bennett had perhaps his best game as a pro despite a disastrous first half. His energy level went up and he had two big dunks as well as kept the ball moving on the offensive end. He needed this game. His boxing out and awareness defensively was rough but that's to be expected from a rookie. He finished with 5 points on 6 shots and 5 rebounds. It's going to take him time but he has shown lately that he can play in the NBA. Perhaps with Bynum out Bennett will continue to get minutes.
Given the weak performance of virtually every Cavalier other than Anthony Bennett and Irving, it's amazing the Cavaliers were able to get back in the game, but the defensive intensity the team showed late was perhaps something to build on.
It doesn't get much easier for the Cavs as they still have to play the Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers before 2014 arrives. At 10-19, the team could use some wins sometime soon.